Brandishing a Bible in his right hand the President of the United States of America stood in front of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.
What was the symbolism of this act that has so bewildered Americans of faith, both black and white?
He had cut a pathway for his entry with teargas and rubber bullets.
That this nation, which was founded on the annihilation of one race and the enslavement of another should then claim that God was on their side is a mystery to me.
Since its founding the state, with the blessing of the church, has sought to disturb the daily lives of its black people and inflict violence upon them.
It then, with God on its side, declares the authority of the American Empire and those with white male flesh.
Was this the metaphor Trump was using? Was it that he believed he had God on his side despite the extraordinary reaction to the murder of George Floyd?
Was the Bible, upside down and back to front, just a prop, and was he really speaking to every Christian on the religious right saying God is on my side? (In other words, ‘I want your vote’).
An aside before I move on:
Upon hearing some improved job figures last Friday President Trump said …
“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying there’s a great thing happening for our country. It’s a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody.”
The man is crazy.
But let’s put that aside for a moment while I fill you in on some reactions to George Floyd’s death.
The Episcopal bishop of Washington Mariann Edgar Budde, who oversees the church Trump visited, told the Washington Post that she was “outraged” over the president’s conduct.
“I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop …”
Robert Hendrickson, Rector at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona said:
“This is an awful man, waving a book he hasn’t read, in front of a church he doesn’t attend, invoking laws he doesn’t understand, against fellow Americans he sees as enemies, wielding a military he dodged serving, to protect power he gained via accepting foreign interference, exploiting fear and anger he loves to stoke, after failing to address a pandemic he was warned about, and building it all on a bed of constant lies and childish inanity.”
While the Rev. William H. Lamar IV the pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. had this to say:
“Trump’s contrived excursion from the Rose Garden to St. John’s Episcopal Church, was then, far more than a photo op: It was the latest in a long line of acts that wed the church to the state in ways that evidence the conundrum of faith that has always been present, but is now more pronounced. When Trump dislocated the protesters from Lafayette Square, he actually cleared them from a space designed to commemorate the violence and victory of the Revolutionary War; he stood in front of a church whose history is rife with complicity in such settler colonial violence. Episcopal Bishops Michael Curry and Mariann Budde rightly decried his actions, but there are no clean hands in our faith.”
The story of Jesus has been so dismantled by the evangelical right that it bears little resemblance to the one of the Bible. He was, in essence, the world’s first socialist. A revolutionary hunted by his adversaries. He unashamedly acted in the service of people and personal fulfilment.
History shows that during the civil rights movement white evangelicals – rather than supporting their black brothers and sisters – actually opposed Martin Luther King Jnr.
Billy Graham was of the view that racial harmony would only be achieved if the nation turned to God.
The phrase “born again” came into being in the 1970s, as did the “opposition to abortion and the rise of the Moral Majority.” They sought not only moral but political power and Ronald Reagan was to be the avenue by which they obtained it.
It’s unsurprising that:
“White evangelical support for Donald Trump is still at 73 percent, and more than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him in 2016.”
Was this terrible Bible-raising stunt – carried out in the most despicable circumstances – a wake up call to the evangelicals?
All through this sordid act of political pandering to the far-right of his base Trump would have been asking himself just how he could exploit this tragedy for his own political gain.
As has been shown, violence is a personality trait of the President. His overriding concern since the beginning of the pandemic, for example, has been one of self-interest.
You can almost see the words going around in his head:
“I can use this tragedy to fire up those of my base who are the most racist and violent.”
Trump’s first reaction to a problem is always violence. Recall these threats:
….have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action. “We put the young ones on the front line, sir, they love it, and….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2020
Trump is without doubt suffers from malignant narcissism, a term:
“The social psychologist Erich Fromm first coined the term “malignant narcissism” in 1964, describing it as a “severe mental sickness” representing “the quintessence of evil”.
He characterised the condition as:
“… the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity.”
It is too noted that:
“Edith Weigert (1967) saw malignant narcissism as a “regressive escape from frustration by distortion and denial of reality”, while Herbert Rosenfeld (1971) described it as “a disturbing form of narcissistic personality where grandiosity is built around aggression and the destructive aspects of the self become idealized.”
When you read these two characterisations, who comes to mind? The President of the United States, of course. And the reason he was holding a Bible is apparent. It was to remind the evangelicals that God was on his side … their side.
I believe that a commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, is the best way of providing solutions to human problems. That does not however mean that faith doesn’t have a place.
The thing though is that in holding up the book as though it were a prop in a bad play is that he exposed himself for what he is. A charlatan. When asked, he couldn’t quote a single verse of scripture.
We know very little, if anything, of the role Christianity has played in his upbringing and adult life.
We know that he was raised as a Presbyterian and has cited the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, a pastor and the author of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” as one of his earliest influences. I still have that book in my library and it is more about motivation than spirituality.
I am often staggered with the vigour American atheists use to confront religion. However when one examines the conduct of religious institutions in that country I cannot say I am the least surprised.
He is on the record as saying he attends church at Christmas and Easter, and rather conveniently says the Bible is one of his favourite books.
Other than that, little is known. Perhaps because there is little to know.
Conversely the man who died, not only read his Bible, but lived by it.
Reverend Dr Michael Jensen rector of St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point, Sydney puts this perspective:
“The Bible holds up a mirror to human nature and human society. It tells us (as if we needed telling right now) that all is not well. And one of its chief targets is political and religious hypocrisy. To display religious piety while ignoring the poor and the oppressed is the worst of sins, biblically speaking. Jesus was especially critical of exactly this.”
My purpose in quoting Michael Jensen is not to assist Christianity in its teaching but simply to highlight what happens when either religion or politics highjacks the other.
Or worse still. how toxic it becomes when you toss into the recipe a narcissistic power hungry fool like Trump.
My thought for the day
I have come to the conclusion that one of the truly bad effects religion (any religion) has on people is that it teaches that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.
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